New Year’s Resolutions suck. By February, 80% of them are out the window, and in the end only 8% will succeed.
Beyond their abysmal failure rate, there are so many other reasons they’re lousy. It doesn’t matter if they are big and audacious or small and humble, New Year’s Resolutions are always onerous and irksome and invariably multitudinous. I mean, it’s never just one, is it? Resolutions come in packs, like other terrible things. Like grey hairs and cigarettes. Like feral dogs and auditors. Sullen teenagers and brussels sprouts.*
And what an ill-advised time to do something hard, January. Do I need to remind you that for a good portion of the world January is cold? Not twinkly, frosty, ho-ho-ho, hot-toddy cold, either. It’s grey, bone-aching, no-bank-holiday-for-months, #dryJanuary cold.
Back in the day, often found on the covers of magazines like The Saturday Evening Post, folks were fond of depicting the new year as an infant baby and the year drawing to a close as an old man. I’ve always liked this apropos Rockwellian visual. January is not dissimilar to the early days of rearing a newborn – invigorating and exhilarating, but also seemingly interminable. It is hardly the time to strike out on a change of things. Where else in the history of beginnings do we say, ‘Yeah! Here’s this fresh wonderful thing – now list everything you want change about it!’ Can you imagine seeing a newborn baby and reporting to its parents, ‘His head’s a little pointy and we really should start doing something about that drooling.’ Trust me, you won’t be invited back for many more christenings.
We greet most newness as a time of discovery and delight. Why can’t we do that for ourselves and our bouncing baby year? Treat yourself and your New Year like the most precious addition to your life that it is. How about we spend the first month celebrating all the ways we kick-ass? Throw your year a shower on New Year’s Day. Devote January reacquainting yourself with all the wonderful quirks that make you, you. Spend a luxurious winter bathing in the warm suds of all the successes you’ve had in the previous year, or even your entire life. Lift a glass to every way you rocked it a little harder, made the world a little more rad, got a little closer to being that person you aspire to be.
‘Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder and said “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”’
Be like your own annoying parent. Start keeping photographic evidence of how magical your life is and remind yourself (out loud if necessary) that you’re perfect and cute and there isn’t a hair on your head you’d change. Refer to your year in weeks old, and then sometime when it’s about 20 weeks, early May perhaps – puberty for your annus terrificus – you can start to examine the ways you might like to reinvent yourself. Teenagers are the ultimate changelings, after all. Embrace it.
Particularly in London, the month of May feels like a teenager to me. Days that can start glorious and charming – you glimpse sunny slivers of what the future holds and think ‘this year is maturing nicely’ – and then, in midsentence, it becomes stroppy and morose. All semblance of warmth and light receding behind a floppy fringe of clouds and you realise it’s going to be a little while yet before you don’t actually plot May’s death. May (or maybe June if you’re a late bloomer) is a perfect time to start critiquing (every. little. thing.) that you wish you could change about yourself and your life.
So now, in late spring, you begin to contemplate the new you. What date exactly? I don’t know. You choose. It’s equally as arbitrary as the 1st of January. For example, I lost some weight I’d been wanting to shift last year. When did I start? That magic date of, ‘I don’t remember but it wasn’t the 1st of January.’ I didn’t really even ‘start,’ per se. I tried and then failed a bit and then restarted and then gained momentum and then lost the weight. That’s how change happens. In fits and starts, and failures and successes, and long-meandering journeys through youth and puberty and adulthood. Not on some cold hungover day in winter that is somehow meant to magically bestow us with the powers of transformation we didn’t have the rest of the year.
So where does that leave us? This is where typically the author would give you a list of ways to make New Year’s Resolutions stick, but as I believe they are rubbish, you’ll have to wait until May for that article.
Ok. I guess I have you here now, so I’ll share the guidance given by author Anne Lamott when tackling a big project, and you can avail yourself of its utility whenever you are ready. It is simple – ‘bird by bird.’
What did she mean by that?
A quote from her book of the same name –
‘My older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write, which was due the next day. He was at the kitchen table and close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and upended books on birds, immobilised by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder and said “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”’
Elaborating on Lamott’s sage nugget, my thoughts (for deployment at the time of your choosing):
- Treat yourself as the bundle of joy you are.
- Change when you hit puberty – meaning when your body and soul makes clear to you it’s time, not some calendar (or human or magazine or any other voice.)
- Change bird by bird. Little steps, become big steps, become transformation.
- Celebrate the bejesus out of it when you get there.
Here’s to a 2019 filled with new beginnings and bird-sized successes, started and ended whenever it’s time.
* If you are a silver fox, feral dog, sullen teenager or brussels sprouts loving auditor, and I have offended you, ignore everything I said and make a resolution to get a sense of humour – stat. If you are a cigarette smoker, you need more than advice from me. See your doctor and stop that foolishness. It’ll kill you.